Hit or Mitford - everybody’s doing it
I have a passion which many others might quietly share: I am in love with the Mitford girls.
Such is my passion I have developed a parlour game which some players initially sneer at but soon become obsessed by.
What sisters they were: Dowdy and heroic Jessica, ultra sophisticated Nancy, gloriously beautiful Diana, Unity the tragic Valkyrie, and Pamela who, in Decca’s (Jessica’s) phrase, emerged as ``a you-know-what-bian’’ living with an Italian woman.
Then there is Debo, whom Nancy considered so stupid she referred to her as Nine—her suggested mental age.
She is now Deborah, the dowager Duchess of Devonshire, aged 90, the last of the sisters with us.
Her recently-released book, ``Wait for Me: Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford Sister’‘, is a reminder of the fading family line, and of how brilliantly those women once lived, controversial and energetic figures known across hemispheres from the 1930s to today.
The book also makes clear Debo, as she also was known by her family, sadly will not be with us for much longer and it is time for a Mitford lover to make a film of this extraordinary bunch of women.
Of course it would be all but impossible because of the competing story lines, each one worthy of a film alone if justice were to be done.
Jessica the Communist invented ``muck-raking’’ journalism; Nancy lived in France where she wrote best sellers and had affairs with the powerful; Diana left her aristocratic first husband for British Fascist Oswold Mosley.
Unity adored Adolf Hitler and then attempted suicide when Britain declared war on him; Pamela divorced her scientist husband and spurned male suitors to live with her Italian friend.
And then there was Deborah, whom Jessica accused of setting out to snare a duke, which she did in Andrew Cavendish who soon after became Duke of Devonshire.
Try and wrap that lot up in an hour and a half.
Thus the parlour game, which is built around a more modest objective—casting the Mitford movie.
Once you start, after getting an idea of the personalities of the individual women, it is hard to stop. A common problem is wanting Keira Knightly to play every role, and most people seem to want Katharine Hepburn to play Jessica (actors from all eras and nationalities are eligible).
A bit of lateral thinking is needed. For example, I like Penelope Keith for Pamela, the sister who loved horses and farms more than any of her siblings.
Maggie Smith is the constantly-fagging, regally aloof Nancy. End of discussion.
Cate Blanchett would be a to-die-for Diana, but a sadder and more naive figure would be needed for Unity. I believe Emma Thompson could do it.
Debo could be covered by Helen Mirren, which leaves Decca, the most complex of the six and thus the most difficult to match.
Step forward Kate Winslet. She looks nothing like tiny Jessica, but would be capable of achieving a warm heart with a tough front, a waterfront picketer with an aristocratic English accent.
Hell of a cast. But draw up your own.
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